With the growing number of businesses who do not report correct information regarding their employees and revenues, wage theft in California has become rampant. Wage theft is any type of deliberate underpayment to an employee by an employer of wages legally entitled to an employee. This can occur when employees are not paid for the hours they worked or are not allowed meal or rest breaks.
The CA Labor Commissioner’s office along with the United States Department of Labor, concluded an investigation into wage theft at two Santa Rosa restaurants and concluded that rampant wage theft had occurred. Ruen Tong Thai Cuisine and Walter Café, both of which are co-owned by Yaowapha Ritdet and Steve Walter. It is alleged that over a period of three years, workers at the restaurants were cheated out of $1.9 million in earned wages. The complaint alleges that workers routinely worked over 70 hours a week and 11 hours a day without being given overtime, rest breaks or meal breaks. Ritdet and Walter’s actions went so far as forging time cards, paying employees in cash without an accounting of deductions all in an effort to avoid paying 47 employees the wages to which they were legally entitled.
In Oakland, the CA Labor Commissioner’s office found that Ji Li Zheng, the owner of the Century Buffet, had not paid workers over $1 million in earned wages. As in the Santa Rosa case, workers were made to work over 70 hours a week and sometimes 13 hours a day with no rest or meal breaks. Zheng was also charged with dissuading a witness for telling his employees that labor investigators were actually immigration officers, persuading the employees not to cooperate with the investigation.
While anyone can fall victim to wage theft, it seems that non-English speakers and undocumented immigrants most often fall prey to wage theft. Labor Commissioner Julie A. Su believes that it is because they are part of the “underground economy” where workers are often paid in cash and there is no itemization of how they are compensated. Workers are often threatened with retaliation when they bring up concerns with their employers or report wage theft to law enforcement.
If you believe that you are a victim of wage theft, contact an employment lawyer experienced in wage claims to review your best course of action for recovering the wages you are owed.